Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bear Ninjas

So lately I've seen another spate of threads on the Shoulderpads of Assassination. Rogues complain that Druids roll on them, that they are selfish and little better than thieves. Druids complain that Rogues are selfish and narrow-minded.

So here's the deal: In Auchindoun, the dungeon complex in Terokkar Forest's Bone Wastes, there is a place called the Sethekk Halls. The final boss of Sethekk drops the Shoulderpads of Assassination. These are one of 3 leather Dungeon 3 armor sets. The set bonuses for the Assassination Armor are clearly Rogue-centric. Still, there is no class label on them.

As a result, Feral Druids want these shoulders for tanking. Tanking, you say? Why the hell would Bears want those things for tanking? Rogues use them for DPS, after all. Well, that's what's at issue.

Short of raiding, there are only a few sets of shoulders that measure up. Common wisdom holds, in fact, that these are the best pre-raid non-PvP shoulders available, primarily according to Emmerald's list. Interesting that they don't actually hold that spot.

Still, they hold spot 13 overall, and of those that meet the criteria there are only 5 pieces that rate better, all greens. Looking down the list to the set that is widely regarded as the 'Feral' set, we find the Wastewalker Shoulderpads clocking in at 24 overall with 5 greens of Stamina or of the Monkey between them and the Assassination shoulders. Sitting at 35 on the list is the one that most Rogues tell us to go get, the Sun-Gilded Shouldercaps, or as we like to call them, Boob Shoulders.

So the complaints are rolling in from random Rogues on the Druid forums complaining that Druids ninja'd their shoulders and Druids shoot back that they're the best pre-raid non-PvP shoulders we can get. Who's right? Both? Neither? Do we care?

Well, the root of the problem is craptacular itemization for Bears. Still. After all the wonderful changes that HAVE gone in for Bear Tanks, the fact is that the people making items still don't know how to itemize for Feral Druids. Certainly we have some apparent flukes like the high armor quest rewards, the Earthwarden and the Heavy Clefthoof set, but when you start to check the Dungeon sets and the Tier 4-5 sets, it begins falling apart all over again.

So what do Druid Tanks do? We pick up Rogue gear. See, high armor is important - very important - but equally important are Stamina and Agility, and Wastewalker is seriously lacking Stamina. I'm not sure anyone can make a good case for a tank settling for an item with half the Stamina sported by an alternative.

What's interesting is that according to the method used by Emmerald to determine the usefulness of an item for a Bear, there are 5 green items that rank better than the Assassination shoulders. Interestingly, the only options of these I'd really consider are the 'of the Monkey' items. Stamina items, while nice, are single-stat items and lack mitigation beyond armor and health. The Monkey items at least add crit and dodge in addition.

So, we ask ourselves, why shouldn't a Bear Tank just pick up some Dragonhawk Shoulderguards of the Monkey?

Two reasons:

First, they are greens with random enchants. This alone ensures that you may never see them drop or see them up for sale. Their very nature means that I have a better chance to see Assassination shoulders drop...more than once. Statistically, the Assassination shoulders are just more accessible.

Second, why should Druid tanks be denied decent enough itemization that they HAVE to turn to Dragonhawk shoulders? Something smells funny here, and it may not just be my wet fur.

I wear the Assassination shoulders. I socketed and enchanted them. I love them. How did I get them? Simple. I ran Sethekk with my friends. I helped a guild Rogue get his and he helped me get mine. I'd certainly have rolled on them against any Rogue I didn't know personally and I'd have made this clear from the start. That way, if anyone takes issue, we get it out of the way before the run commences. Some people may not be happy with this method, but until the shoulders say Class: Rogue on them, they're fair game for anyone that can and will use them.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Night Elves go Dungeonpunk

Ah, the wonders of patch day. What will it bring? How will I react? Will my character's capabilities be recognizable? How many of my mods will break? All questions every World of Warcraft player asks whenever the new patch rolls.

Luckily, we get to see them to up on the Test Realm and since they rarely change before going live, we can safely assume the changes are accurate. Going down the list, here's what matters to Bear Tanks.

  • Epic Flight Form
This one takes us back to Sethekk Halls, a place many of us have come to despise after running it over and over for our shoulders we had to deathmatch Rogues in order to get. According to the testers, we pay for the skill up front before embarking on the quest so those that bought their epic mounts beforehand aren't screwed. This is a good thing. The new boss may be a summonable like those for the Dungeon 2 questlines, or it may just be an addition to the dungeon. No news on that front that I've seen.

So I suppose this doesn't really have anything to do with Druid tanks, but it's something we're all interested in. After all, who doesn't want twin plasma cannons?
  • Barkskin

The duration is dropping to 12 seconds and the cooldown reduced to 1 minute. Not a bad tradeoff considering it can now be used in forms and during some conditions.

  • Feral Charge

Oooh, a nice change here. Anyone that tanked Ras Frostwhisper back in the day or has PvP'd against a Frost Mage will appreciate that Feral Charge isn't affected by slowing effects anymore. I think our groups will appreciate that, too.

  • Mangle

So Mangle, after receiving a fairly severe nerf in the last big patch, is being rebuffed. It's getting a +15% damage shift and an accompanying -15% to threat generation. Theoretically this means it will be more useful for PvP and perhaps when things go south when soloing while not boosting our tanking threat, an area that's showing more and more concern from the developers.

  • Equipment
This is, perhaps, the most exciting thing about the patch notes. In it, at least 6 pieces of Feral gear used by tanks are being reworked. I'll start with the one true nerf.

Supple Leather Boots are losing 30 Attack Power and gaining a mere 3 Strength. A nerf, but it sure makes picking the boots from the Heavy Clefthoof set easier for those that haven't made the shift already. Read on.

The Heavy Clefthoof set is being redone, and when the changes were first announced, I nearly panicked. They told us that the armor would be increased but that the Stamina and Defense would be going down. All I could think was that since my armor already broke 20k I didn't desperately need more but that I did need more health since I don't quite have 12.5k unbuffed health.

My fears were for nothing. Between the three pieces of Heavy Clefthoof, we are gaining 658 armor, losing 23 Stamina, and losing 12 Defense Rating.

Those of us with Thick Hide will be gaining more than 3.5k AC from this while losing a miniscule amount of Stamina overall. Defense also suffers but ultimately it's only a drop of 5 or 6 points of Defense. I have 430 right now myself and since I only benefit from half Defense's features losing a bit for other stats is just fine.

The real balancing of this comes in the buffs to Earthwarden and Braxxis' Staff of Slumber. Both items are getting 39 Stamina, making the Heavy Clefthoof Stamina nerf ultimately a buff. After all, I don't know any serious Druid tanks that aren't using one of those two items unless they've found an epic that's better (I think I saw one on the boards, but I can't remember for sure). Most of us are going to use one of these two weapons, though, due to the fact that any Druid can acquire them given enough time - no access to raiding required. Even those that get better will likely start with these and use them extensively.

What I find funny about this is how many Druid tanks on the official boards are just now saying that this is THE pre-T5 tanking set. In my humble opinion it always has been. Certainly there are other items that previously had more armor, but the sacrifice in Defense and Stamina was rarely worth the tradeoff. Regardless, more and more Druids will now be seen in the getup I'm wearing already, one that makes me look like an extra from a Mad Max movie or a Dungeons and Dragons 3/3.5 character in their dungeonpunk aesthetic.

Regardless, this patch is a good one for Druid tanks, no question.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bear Ass Tank

Perhaps the single most annoying thing about Druid tanking is our gargantuan ass. As an elf, it's perky and tight and I can see around it and all is well. But the instant I drop into Bear form, it's all ass all the time...and it's hairy.

The worst part is when you get backed into a corner or have to fight in confined spaces where you can't scroll out to give yourself the same real estate of view any other character might take for granted. For this reason and this reason over all others, I nearly dropped my Druid tank for a Warrior. There are, to be certain, other reasons to select a Warrior over a Druid when picking a class to tank with, but this is one of the biggest. Still, if you can get past the fuzzy rump in your face Bear tanking is incredibly satisfying.

Why would you pick a Druid tank over a Warrior tank if what you really like doing is tanking? After all, Warriors get plate armor, shields, ranged weapons, a single form to manage, a fear break, no expectation of healing or buffing, a vast array of tanking tools, the mechanics for parry and block, and the comfort of a community that regards them as indispensible in the role of a tank, a guaranteed spot, if you will.

So why?

Bears bring a few unique tools to the table such as immunity to polymorph effects, a charge indifferent to stance, massive armor totals, pre-combat buffs, and frequently larger health pools. Doesn't look like much does it? In truth it isn't, but it's the balancing act that Druid tanks endure for the versatility of roles they enjoy in contrast to the Warrior's versatility within a role.

Rather than focusing on what Druid tanks don't get, we're going to look at making the most of what they do.

First and most noticeable are the massive armor totals Druids enjoy. A comparable Druid and Warrior will see an average of a 10k AC difference in the Bear's favor. As an example, in gear that largely outclasses mine, my GM runs around 9k less armor than I do at the time of this writing. On the surface, this difference is huge, but the way the armor formula works, this is about a 10% difference in damage reduction.

So the big question that arises from this is: why? Why do Bears have such massive armor totals? There are several possibilities, but one stands out more than the others.

While Critical Hits (200% damage) are eliminated through Defense, Talents and Resilience, Crushing Blows (150% damage) are mitigated by Warriors and Paladins via their shields. Bears eat them. Bears do not have access to shields, and hence have no access to block. In theory this was mitigated in the past both through higher armor totals and higher health totals. In practice, Bear and Warrior health totals are getting more and more in-line leaving just our incredible armor to compensate while we take the Crushing Blows a Warrior can potentially push off the hit table.

So again: why pick a Druid over a Warrior?

Well, mechanically this isn't a question I can answer. Most Druid tanking advantages are designed explicitly to make up for fundamental class and gear differences. Certainly stylistic differences can make a case, but I pointed out at the beginning what I think of my Big Bear Ass (tm). Warriors are, on the whole, better designed for the role.

Well, hopefully I can work to provide an answer to this while also providing meaningful commentary on Druid tanks, the culture that surrounds us, and game mechanics. Every Druid tank will encounter bias no Warrior must deal with, unrealistic expectations, lack of in-game support for the role, and bizarre resentment from the most unlikely quarters.